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The Manufacture of Disconnection

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posted on 2021-12-09, 09:47 authored by Alexander BeattieAlexander Beattie

In Silicon Valley, the world’s most famous site of technological innovation, technology professionals are rejecting their own inventions and disconnecting from the internet. According to reports, technologists believe their designs and algorithms “hijack” user’s brains (Lewis 2017) and executives are sending their children to technology-free schools (Jenkin 2015). These technologists are not disillusioned by digital technology per se, but rather by the ideological and socio-economic system underpinning digital technology. This system is the ‘attention economy’ where media companies, advertisers and technology platforms compete for end user attention (Crogan and Kinsley 2012), which in turn incentivises technologists to create compulsive experiences for users to maximise time spent on device (Lanier 2018). In response to concerns about the attention economy, some technologists have become ‘disconnectionists’―opponents to the culture of constant connection they helped create (Jurgenson 2013). Not only are they disconnecting from their own inventions but, in true Silicon Valley style, are also inventing new technology-based ways to disconnect from the internet (“technologies of disconnection”). In other words, these disconnectionists are manufacturing disconnection.  This research investigates the manufacture of disconnection as a mode of resistance to the attention economy. I contend that the manufacture of disconnection does not separate the user from the internet, but rather deploys technical and social practices to reorganise user relations to themselves and the internet in order to resist the attention economy. I critically assess the new types of user/technology relations that are produced by the manufacture of disconnection and discuss what the implications are for resisting the attention economy. To do this, I analyse five technologies of disconnection utilising the walkthrough method (Light, Burgess, and Duguay 2016) and data from semi-structured interviews from the disconnectionists behind the technology. The research questions ask: what are the new modes of relations that the manufacture of disconnection produces, and how do these relations implicate resistance to the attention economy and culture of connectivity?  My thesis builds upon research from disconnection scholars who relate disconnecting from the internet to the work of Michel Foucault (Guyard and Kaun 2018; Karppi 2018; Karppi and Nieborg 2020; Portwood-Stacer 2012b). Foucault’s turn in the 1980s to ethics of the self (“late Foucault”) makes him an ideal theorist for a study on the manufacture of disconnection because of his consideration on how to resist the forces he believed were shaping society and individuals. Adopting a late Foucauldian perspective, this thesis identifies new relations of space and self that are produced by the manufacture of disconnection: a rehabilitative space; a sanctuary space; the fixable self, the intentional self and the available self. These spatial and self relations are digital architectures that enable inhabitants to resist dominant communicative norms or their own unconscious smartphone behaviours to transform their relationship to themselves, as well as seek refuge from certain surveillance activities that undergird the attention economy. Throughout my analysis I demonstrate that the manufacture of disconnection offers users an effective mode of lifestyle resistance to the attention economy but orients disconnection to be in service of productivity, wellbeing and gender norms that require users to subject themselves to additional self-governance methods. The thesis concludes that the manufacture of disconnection encourages new self-disciplinary modes of living for users in the attention economy without dismantling the structures of the attention economy.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Media Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Daubs, Michael; Buettner, Angi; Lacey, Cherie